When you arrive in San Cristobal de las Casas from Palenque as I did, you’ll be very tired but totally satisfied. 190 km of curves and unexpected events you’ll lead to a stunning and cheerful town set among the mountains of Chiapas.
It sounds unreal but San Cristobal is located 2100 metres above the sea level. It means, for us, a one-day trip in the mountains. Here, instead, people live comfortably and I have to say that the temperature is suitable. It’s cool at night and warm during the day. I spent the night at the cheap La Garita Cabanas (excellent good value for money) which is slightly higher. It’s in the suburbs, towards the hill and in the evening it was cooler than downtown.
As already told you, you’ll feel tired, but the vibrancy of San Cristobal will know how to bring you back to energy in a very short time.
The pastel colors of the colonial houses bring a blast of joy to this “capital” of the Chiapas, which, in the past had hard times, especially when the Zapatista movement met the indifference of Mexican Government.
San Cristobal de las Casas and the Zapatismo
Let’s go back in history, to better understand this city and its people.
Knowing that Chiapas, since the beginning of 19th Century was put in the background, is essential, as it was considered the Mexico’s poorest area. The inhabitants are mainly composed of indigenous people that for 500 years have suffered injustices. No rights have ever been recognized to them. This is the reason why the Zapatista movement was set up, and afterwards, in 1983, the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation).
The fact of ignoring the culture and the native populations relegating them to a condition of inferiority is also due to economic interests for the resources of the Chiapas area.
The abuses and the strong rights disparities were brought out by the Zapatista uprising. This was the name of the movement celebrates Emiliano Zapata, who fought, in 1910 against the army of the dictator Porfirio Diaz. This counter-action allowed the approval of important agrarian reforms and an improvement in the living conditions of the population. The ’90s Zapatista movement linked its ideals to this man, even if in reality, it was led by the Subcomandante Marcos.
Which is the role of San Cristobal?
Going back to the amazing San Cristobal de las Casas, we have to keep in mind that the real uprising broke out in 1994. The town were occupied by the Zapatista army and right here, for the very first time, San Cristobal people read their right declaration. That’s why hanging around San Cristobal you can notice a lot of proudness towards the movement. Some restaurants are furnished with paintings and sentences paying tribute to that historical period and invoke the populations’ rights.
I tried to sum up a piece of Chiapas’ history. If you want to deepen you can do it by reading this articlet -> CLICK HERE (I suggest to translate from Italian)
Things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas
Let’s start the visit to San Cristobal (that I included in the best things to do in Mexico) by saying you can visit the entire town in one day, including some regenerating break in the beautiful and modern Cafes in Calle Real de Guadalupe. This street, together with Plaza 31 de Marzo and with a crowded market, represents the hub of city life. It’s a pleasure to have a walk in Real de Guadalupe. Its colored flags and the romantic view of its evening light, place for sure San Cristobal de las Casas at the very top of the most beautiful towns visited during my road trip in Mexico.
You must live San Cristobal in slow mode. You have to understand it’s essence.
Churches and Hill in San Cristobal
Besides the buildings, one of the aspects you have to focus on is its people soul. In fact, despite they are aware of their limited economic possibilities, every day, they try to carry on a dignified life, smiling. The religious side s very strong. I came in San Cristobal on Sunday and I got into the Cathedral during the morning Mass. The church was crowded and it was very clear to me the strong and genuine attachment to the religion.
Real de Guadalupe is a very long street. Going in the opposite direction from the square, after several hundred meters, you’ll reach the Cerro de Guadalupe.
At the top of the staircase, you’ll find the Iglesia de Guadalupe. From this place you will have a different perspective of the town.
Another hill near the city, another Iglesia on its top. I’m talking about Cerro de San Cristobal. located south-east, while Cerro de Guadalupe is in the eastward. Keep in mind that for visiting these churches you’ll have to gather all your energy for few steps. The town is at 2100 metres above the sea level. It’s normal that you feel more tired.
Other things to see in the city
From a cultural point of view, there are a lot of other things to visit in San Cristobal:
- Templo de Santo Domingo: it has a spectacular façade in Baroque style, it is situated north of the city center,in the nearby of a market ( not the touristic one). On the façade, added in the XVII century, you can see the eagle of the Habsburg, the Spanish rulers of that period.
- The Textile Maya Museum: focused on the textile products of the Chiapas area, of the Oaxaca and of Guatemala, it is situated next to the Templo de Santo Domingo in the Centro Cultural de Los Altos.
- Mayan Medicine Museum: linked to the traditional medicine knowledge of the Mayan culture.
- Na Bolom: it is a historical house dedicated to the study and protection of native civilizations.
Personally, I’m not very interested in museums, even if I consider them cradles of civilization and places to be preserved.
The market of San Cristobal: discovering its daily life
What I like to do while visiting a city is to connect myself to its soul, to see how everyday life unfolds.
In San Cristobal de las Casas, there is a place where the swarm of people fascinates and strikes you. This place is a must-visit. This is the craft market situated near the Templo de la Caridad.
The market is located in the north of the city and, due to its everyday mass of people that crowd it every day, I suggest you to go there by foot in order not to queuing for 40 minutes as I did by car.
In this market, you will find objects of handicraft, fruit of all kinds, vegetables and fabric at very low prices. Obviously, they will understand you are tourists and of course the prices will increase significantly. But don’t worry. With a little bit of trading you will be able to decrease the price. As I explained in the tips to travel in Mexico, the bargaining is not so exasperated like in other places in the world. You’ll not be able to lower the price to the minimum but you’ll obtain a little discount anyway.
Suggestion: If you want to buy some souvenirs, San Cristobal is the perfect place. The local productions reach the cost with a higher price, so why pay more?! Buy here and you’ll make some good deals.
The town of San Cristobal is to be visited both day and night. With the evening lights, it becomes fascinating. How about enjoying a salt&lemon tequila in Real de Guadalupe? Try to believe!
A last suggestion: San Cristobal is often rainy, there is a small problem with the drains. You’ll notice that the sidewalks are quite high. The reason is that not every street can be drained. Therefore some rivers were created, flowing into the main street. Consequently, in case of rain, your feet will surely get wet!
Daily excursions from San Cristobal de las Casas
Walking in Real de Guadalupe you’ll find several travel agencies. Each one of them stating the different activities you can do in the Chiapas area. If you’ll have rent a car you can do this excursion by yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have to take part in an organized tour.
Here there are my alternatives:
- Canyon del Sumidero: you’ll get to the pretty town of Chapas de Corzo and boats leaving rom the embarcadero will bring you to the Canyon. I write the post on Sumidero Canyon in Mexico where I described how to do it on your own. If I’m not wrong, the agency offers you the tour for 300 pesos per person.
- Laguna de Montebello: I don’t know the prices of the agency, but I can tell you that If I have had one more day to spent in San Cristobal I would have chosen this excursion for sure. It is quite far, it is situated near the border with Guatemala
- Bonampak and Yaxchilan: these two archeological Mayan sites are located along the Carretera (street), traveling parallel to Belize: this is also a very challenging excursion. It would be better to start from Palenque instead of the inner Chiapas.
- Visit the indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula and Zincotanan: those are two villages,near San Cristobal that can be visit in one day. Most of the population is indigenous. Very popular is visit the San Juan Chamula village. The church of the village has become a destination for the tourists, but you have to maintain a respectful attitude. So, you need to take photos as few as possible and especially not to local people. You can have this excursion by yourself, with a car o with a colectivo.
- Horse ride
Sadly, I left this beautiful town between the mountains. Beacause it worth each of the 190 endless km that separate San Cristobal de Las Casas from Palenque was worth it.
San Cristobal will definetly remain in your heart.